How to cook ground meat perfectly every time!

Chef Debra Erickson with a casserole dish

Cooking ground meats to be sure they are fully cooked and not overcooked can be tricky for a blind or visually impaired person. Here are a few steps to make sure ground meat is cooked perfectly every time.

Some common recipes that call for ground meet to be browned are tacos, chilis, and sausage gravy. If you are browning ground beef, it generally contains enough fat that no more needs to be added. If cooking ground chicken, turkey or pork or lean ground beef, adding fat to the pan is important to be sure the meat does not stick to the pan as it cooks. Most recipes do not call for crusty meat crumbles. For each pound of ground meat, I add one tablespoon (Auto Measure Spout) of plant oil, such as vegetable oil or olive oil. The oil will not affect the finished taste of the meat, so a less expensive oil is fine.

Cooking steps

Step 1:

Add the oil to the bottom of a cold pan if your meat requires added fat to cook nicely.  Use a paper towel to spread a thin layer of oil all over the bottom of the cold pan. 

It will be helpful to use a flat-bottom, high-sided saute pan. I like a pan with at least 3-inch walls, straight not sloped, because it helps keep the food in the pan better than its sloped counterpart where food can travel more easily up the sloped side and find its way out of the pan.

Step 2:

For any ground meat you are using, it is important to break up any chunks of meat as you put it into the cold pan. Clumps of meat will take longer to cook and they are more difficult to break up during the cooking process after the pan is hot. You can’t see it and you can’t feel it, so breaking it up before you turn on the heat can avoid this problem.  Also, if your ground meat is different sizes, it will cook at different rates with the larger chunks taking more time to cook than the smaller pieces so the little pieces will be overdone before the larger chunks are done. Consistency in size is key.

Assessing the temperature of the meat

Even with the use of a Talking Thermometer it is impossible for this task because the pieces are so small. For most recipes that involve the browning of ground meat, such as tacos or chili, the meat will be cooked further as the recipe progresses, so cooking it fully the first pass is less essential even if it is ground chicken or turkey.

Step 3:

After the meat is evenly distributed in the pan, turn the heat on to medium to allow the pan to heat up quickly. Take a moment while the pan is warming to smell the raw meat and keep it in mind as you continue. The smell of cooked meat is dramatically different than raw meat and you can use your nose to help determine doneness.

Step 4:

Choose a utensil to move the hot food around. I use a Long Wood Spoon, but any heat resistant wood or silicon utensil of your choice is fine. The blind friendly considerations in choosing this tool is to make sure it has a long handle so that the tool is not able to fall down into the bottom of the pan. The other consideration is that the tool should not be made of a material that conducts heat, such as stainless steel. This allows the tool to remain in the pan for the entirety of the cooking process and eliminates the need to move the tool in and out of the pan, reducing the chance of dripping or food waste from moving it in and out of the pan.

Step 5:

When you hear the meat start to sizzle turn the heat to medium low. The small pieces will cook quickly and only a slight sizzle is necessary to cook the ground meat thoroughly. If you hear anything louder than a slight sizzle, the heat is too high and the contents of the pan will need to be cooled as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do this is to lift the pan up and off of the heat source until the sound dies down and then it can be placed back on the heat source and can continue to cook using less high heat. Silence is not desirable either, you need to hear a slight constant sizzle to be able to use the timing guide in the next step.

Step 6:

A pound of ground meat, at a medium low temperature, will take about 6 to 9 minutes depending on the temperature and thickness of the pan, and the temperature of the meat when it is placed in the pan. Move or stir the meat for about 30 seconds for every minute it cooks so that no morsel of meat is in constant contact with the bottom of the pan for the entire cooking time. Any meat that is not moved will burn or crust in that amount of time. You will be able to smell the cooked meat when it is done. As it will probably be cooked further when making the dish, this timing guide will certainly result in a fully cooked pleasantly textured and colored product.

Step 7:

If your meat needs to be drained, I find it is most efficient to leave the cooked meat in the pan off of the heat source. Allow it to cool enough to be touched but not cool enough to allow the cooked animal fat to return to a solid state. Tilt the pan slightly and place a wad of clean paper towels where gravity is pulling the liquid fat to gather and allow the towel to soak up the unwanted fat. This method eliminates the need for a strainer and another greasy dish to clean, the unpleasant task of getting hot meat to fall into the strainer, and the greasy sink that will need to be cleaned after the meat is drained. Effective and efficient!

Note: If you want to save the grease for another purpose (such as bacon grease) you can use the blind friendly Straining System which easily removes any food particles resulting in “clean” grease that can be stored for use at a later time.